PEORIA, Ariz. — With the Major League Baseball season on hold indefinitely as the world tries to prevent the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, thousands of people who are employed by the 30 teams to work regular-season games at their respective ballparks are now without work and paychecks.
In an effort to offset some of that loss, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that all 30 teams will donate $1 million each to go toward their respective event staff employees.
“Over the past 48 hours, I have been approached by representatives of all 30 clubs to help assist the thousands of ballpark employees affected by the delay in the start of the Major League Baseball season,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Motivated by a desire to help some of the most valuable members of the baseball community, each Club has committed $1 million. The individual clubs will be announcing more details surrounding this support effort in their local communities.
“The timing of these announcements will vary because of the need to coordinate with state and local laws as well as collective-bargaining obligations in an effort to maximize the benefits realized by each group of employees. I am proud that our clubs came together so quickly and uniformly to support these individuals who provide so much to the game we love.”
As Manfred’s statement indicated, this was something started by different clubs. Because they play in a city labeled a “hot spot” for the coronavirus, the Mariners were already in the position of having their first homestand relocated to a different venue.
As a result, they had begun the process of trying to find a way to help the approximately 1,100 employees that are on hourly wages and reliant on events at T-Mobile Park.
“We knew two weeks ago we were going to miss seven games,” CEO Kevin Mather said in a conference call Tuesday. “So we were already working on a plan.”
Mather lauded the efforts of the hourly employees, who manage every aspect of the game-day experience and more.
“They are fans, and they’re passionate,” he said. “They really feel like they’re part of the Mariner family. And that’s, that’s why this decision was so easy; these are Mariner employees, Mariner family, and we’re going to take care of them.”
This collective movement started with a conference call that included about a dozen other club presidents Tuesday morning.
“It didn’t start with Major League Baseball,” Mather said. “It started with the clubs, and they all said, ‘What are you doing in Seattle?’ And we were ahead of the curve. We shared our plan, and then the commissioner got involved. He circulated it with the other clubs. Everybody was going to do something, so we let the commissioner put out the announcement that said we’re doing this.”
The Mariners actually released their statement about an hour before the commissioner.
“As one part of our commitment to that community, the Mariners, along with Mariners ownership, are announcing today that we are creating a fund to support Seattle Mariners Event Staff employees who will lose pay because of the postponed games.
“We are proud of our efforts to attract, train and hire workers from our diverse communities, including many that rely on their wages from our games. We understand that this is a difficult time for many seasonal staff who face the possibility of losing work hours.
“With that in mind, our ownership and organization want to provide these deserving Seattle Mariners workers financial support.
“We are working on details to the grant program now, and will have additional information available once the details are finalized.
“Our thoughts remain with all of our fans, and neighbors, as we navigate this difficult time.”
Mather acknowledged that the statements from the Mariners and MLB were vague.
“It lacks specifics as well because every state has different rules, every city has different rules some, some teams have collective-bargaining agreements with their employees, some teams don’t,” he said. “And so it will be city by city. I would say we are expecting it to be more than a million dollars.
“We expected that this will gain momentum. It’s the right thing to do, and this community has always been so generous. Our ownership group has always been so generous that we think this will be the seed money, for lack of a better word.”
If this delay from games drags on longer than expected, would the Mariners increase the donation?
“I’m sure we will,” he said. “Let’s hope we’re playing baseball in the middle of May and the million dollars is ample. But if it isn’t, people in this community are hurting, and we’ve been very blessed and both in the front office and in our ownership group and in this community there’s a lot of blessings. Let’s share it and make sure we take care of each other. So the answer to your question is yes.”
The logistics are being finalized. Mather said it’s still in the “setting up” process, noting that with opening day originally scheduled to be March 26, these employees would’ve received their first paycheck on April 15. The goal is to have everything in place by then.
“We have a couple of weeks before anybody misses the paycheck,” he said. “But we’re setting up an employee disaster relief fund. It’ll be inside our Mariners Care, 501(c)(3) organization.”
Why Mariners Care?
“We set it up inside our Mariners Care 501(c)(3) organization because we’re hoping other employees, we’re hoping players, we’re hoping season-ticket holders, we’re hoping sponsors and we are hoping a whole lot of people take this as an opportunity to do the right thing for our community and help with some really troubling times for our hourly employees, our valuable hourly employees,” Mather said.
The Mariners won’t issue regular paychecks to the employees.
“We’re learning, and unfortunately in today’s world you’ve got to get the attorneys involved, and they say if we pay them their salaries then they’re not eligible for unemployment insurance,” he said. “So it can’t be compensation-based, but a loosely defined needs-based grants and generous needs-based grants. Without without getting any more specific than that, there’s terms that we have to use.”
Each individual’s needs could vary.
“We’re figuring this out, but for instance on opening day we were going to have a whole lot of employees working in the ballpark, (but the) second, third, seventh day we weren’t going to have so many,” he said. “We have done mock schedules with how many games, how many hours, was this particular employee going to work. And the answer will be some combination of how many hours they would have worked, how many hours they lost, how many games they have historically worked for us, it’s a work in process. I know that’s not a great answer. But we have to make sure we do it the right way.”
Another group of unpaid employees that is expected to be addressed is minor-league players not on 40-man rosters and not invited to MLB camp. They have not received a paycheck since August, and most make a nominal salary. It’s being handled by MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“That’s also one of those questions that’s above my pay grade,” Mather said. “I was on a call yesterday. The PA (players associations) and the commissioner’s office are knocking out a lot of details … and there was discussions, is that we have to do something for the minor-league players. … I don’t know the answer, but we’re well aware of the issue, and we’re working quickly as a league as to what we’re going to do.”